Church schools: The Times says... Lambeth Palace says...
Apparently, the Archbishop of Canterbury told Ruth Gledhill of The Times that he supports church schools which abandon their religious selection criteria and open their doors to all pupils. He said there is a "deeper and deeper commitment to the common good" within church schools and a steady move away from faith-based entry tests. Allowing children the chance to apply to faith schools helps the church achieve its mission of alleviating poverty, he added.
Ms Gledhill (or her sub-editor) chose to make something of this which is not only unhelpful, but a little misleading, for nothing quoted here signifies that the Church of England is intending to "move away" from school selection on the basis of faith. It is perfectly possible to support schools which impose no faith-based selection criteria as well as those that do, and for those which do select by faith to be committed to the common good and the alleviation of poverty: in other words, selection by faith and the Christian mission are not mutually exclusive.
The wonderful Venerable Jan McFarlane, Acting Press Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, had to interrupt her Horlicks at midnight last night to issue the following statement:
In the course of a wide ranging interview for The Times on the subject of tackling poverty, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked about the role of schools. He praised the work of church schools especially in areas of highest deprivation, and stressed the importance of home, family and excellent school leadership.Church of England schools are among the best state schools in the country, and are frequently oversubscribed. Of course, as Archbishop Justin says, it is not necessary to select to get a really good school: "There are unbelievably brilliant schools that are entirely open to all applicants without selection criteria apart from residence, where you live, and which produce staggeringly good results."
The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued the following statement regarding selection criteria for church schools:-
“I fully support the current policy for schools to set their own admissions criteria, including the criterion of faith. Nothing in my wider comments to The Times on this subject should be seen as “revealing” any changes nor dissenting from current policy.” The Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.
And he is astute enough to know the reason for this: "It's a question of - and you can point to them all over the place - it's a question of outstanding leadership."
Mission belongs to God and flows from the heart of God: it is not an exclusively human activity. There is perhaps no more vital a role for a mission-orientated church than engagement in the task of education, to help impart truth, forge peace, renew creation and tell of the redemption of humanity and the coming Kingdom. It is distinct from evangelisation - indeed, it is much bigger: it is not the task of church schools to convert children: it is, as Moltmann puts it, to embrace all activities that serve to liberate man from his slavery. Evangelism has to be the focus of mission, but expressed through love and transmitted and fostered by moral leadership.
A Christian education is values-orientated: poverty is alleviated and ignorance dispelled through pastoral care as much as classroom learning. Archbishop Justin is concerned with children's spiritual development as well as their intellectual and physical development, and that ministry is certainly not confined to the children of believers. Church schools sow seeds; some of them fall on stony ground, others on fertile soil. But make no mistake, a church school that is well led and based securely on a Christian ethos, manifesting a culture of values, inculcating character virtues, will equip children of all faiths and none for life.
One might almost say that church schools exist for the unbelieving and non-believing: there is no "move away" from faith-based admissions. In truth, in very many Church of England schools, they never really existed. Some of them are now filled with very happy Muslims, Sikh and Hindu children, and their parents are very happy indeed.